Super Rugby Preview
Stormers must unshackle attack - Growden
Greg Growden and Andy Withers
February 10, 2014
The Stormers have plenty of firepower if only they can light the fuse © Scrum.com
Stormers' Super Rugby 2014 squad
You know what you're getting from the Stormers: territorial game plan based on solid defensive structure; it's not exciting, but it's effective. The Cape Town-based franchise really should have pushed harder for the 2013 play-offs given wins over the Chiefs and the Brumbies in respective 70- and 57-point anomalies at Newlands, but they suffered crippling injuries before three-try home demolitions of the playoffs-bound Cheetahs and Bulls in the run to the line gave fans reason to keep the faith for another campaign. Greg Growden says the Stormers know how to smother the opposition but they don't seem to have too much idea what to do at the other end of the field. The big hope is that Demetri Catrakilis can provide the impetus and game plan to unshackle an under-performing attack.
Last Season: seventh, third in South African Conference; The Stormers disappointed last year, for the team that made the 2010 final and the play-offs in the following two years never threatened to make the semi-finals despite beating both finalists, the Chiefs and the Brumbies, in Cape Town; they eventually missed by just one position and four competition points on the ladder after winning their final five matches, in which two simple, functional wins over Southern Kings illustrated perfectly the failings and frustrations of their injury-racked campaign.
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick examine the Super Rugby challenge from South Africa's five franchises
Key Man: Duane Vermeulen and Jean de Villiers are the headline acts in Cape Town, each the best player in South Africa in their respective position, and certainly the Stormers are unlikely to succeed without robust contributions from either. Or from Siya Kolisi. Or Schalk Burger. But Deon Fourie is the heartbeat of the side, and his performance in the front-row (hooker) or back-row (flanker, either side) often is the litmus test of the Stormers' form. He features highly in stats for runs, pick and drives, and pilfers, and needs only reduce his turnovers from 32 in 2013 (which includes any number of crooked lineout throws) to become even more valuable to the team.
Key Stat: The Stormers have scored just one four-try bonus point in the past two seasons, after grabbing four in 2010. But they failed to match their success of 2012, when they topped the log for the first time in history, undefeated at home and winning 14 of their 16 matches, primarily because they ranked equal No.1 in conceding penalties from which opponents kicked for goal. A dour team with a strategy based on the best defensive system in the comp, they scored two more tries in 2013 than in 2012, and conceded three fewer, while Joe Pietersen kicked goals at a metronomic 85%, but they scored four points fewer and conceded 48 points more to give away their finals ambitions.
Rising Star: Demetri Catrakilis impressed with the outmatched Southern Kings in his maiden Super Rugby campaign, and he can surely only improve playing in this better Stormers team (on paper) - for which his organised game seems a match made in heaven; certainly he seems a better fit than did Elton Jantjies last year. He missed 28 tackles for the Kings last season, but you think he'll improve that stat with better drilling and playing in a better structure. Also the Stormers will benefit from the quality of his tactical kicking from hand. Right now he has a mule kick from open hand and accurate radar from the tee, but he may yet develop into something more than a stereotypical South African playmaker.
Season Preview: Much depends on the team's ability to cover the long-term injury absence of Eben Etzebeth, who has proved himself among the world's very best second-rows, the transfer of Andries Bekker to Japan, and the transfer to France of Joe Pietersen and Bryan Habana (even if the latter didn't have a grand 2013); also on the playmaking success of Catrakilis after his move back to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth. But they retain a fearsome pack, and in Jean de Villiers they have one of the best players and captains in world rugby. Coach Allister Coetzee is unlikely to veer too far from his conservative game plan, but they don't have to do much different in 2014 to be back in finals contention (especially if they concede fewer penalties within kicking range).
Greg Growden's verdict: The Stormers know how to smother the opposition, boasting for several years a first-rate defensive contingent. But they don't seem to have too much idea what to do at the other end of the field. Tries haven't exactly been flourishing in Cape Town lately, as shown by them finishing with only 30 in 2013 - the third-fewest behind the Force and the Kings. So bonus points became a bit of an issue, especially as they scored four tries or more in a match only once last season. It doesn't help this year that their key attacker - Springboks winger Bryan Habana - won't be around, as he has headed to Toulon in France. The concern now is that the back three is fairly light-on, and may struggle to make an impact. The big hope is that No.10 Demetri Catrakilis, who has moved back from the Kings, can provide the impetus and game plan to unshackle an under-performing attack. At least the Stormers have the advantage of a committed home crowd, averaging 33,545 for every game at Newlands last year. But if they struggle as much they did as last year, when they slumped to seventh, after three seasons making the finals, the fans will lose patience and walk away; not finding the try line with any consistency does that.
Tip: Second in South Africa Conference Finish: Fifth.
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